If you’re in the arts and thinking of calling yourself a ‘renaissance’ man or woman, you should review the career of Melvin Van Peebles. Although his classic 1971 film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” has made him an icon there is a plethora of accomplishments he has including being an Air Force pilot, novelist, painter, sculptor, pioneer rapper, Tony-nominated playwright and more. If you ask Van Peebles how long it’s taken him to do these things he might jokingly say 39 years. The truth is it’s been an amazing 80 year-long journey, which he celebrated on his birthday “baasssssh” this past Tuesday at Film Forum. Just prior to the occasion, Van Peebles shared that he hopes his legacy will instill confidence in others to pursue their dreams—even if it includes several different ones.

“People think if he can do it I can and that’s the most positive thing to happen,” he says. “I feel so good that I’ve been emulated for our folks. All I wanted to do was show that we could and I did the best that I could.”

One individual that has heeded Van Peebles’ message is Caktuz, with a renaissance man’s resume that covers everything from recording artist to illustrator to web series producer to marketing professional. Caktuz even worked with Van Peebles as he illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of Van Peebles’ film “Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchyfooted Mutha.” Caktuz notes that balancing various roles is a challenge but that understanding how to market oneself can make a difference. “Most artists have a hard time trying to juggle that balance,” he says. “You have to find a way for your fans to respect you for those extra branches on the tree. So I am always aware of where the lines between marketing ploys and true art are drawn.”

There was nothing but real art, culture and excitement during this year’s HARLEMWEEK “Summer in the City” and “Harlem Day” weekend events. Over 60,000 attendees filled the streets of Harlem and enjoyed outdoor live music, regional dance events, college “step show” competitions and an outdoor film festival by ImageNation. There were exhibitors and vendors aplenty providing delicious foods, creative arts & crafts, clothing and much more.

While the adults enjoyed the weekend’s festivities such as the “Unveiled/Unlocked” fashion show to celebrate bare or partially bare head females and a “Peace in Our Community Conference,” the youth had their NYC “Children’s Festival.” Over 10,000 children between the ages 5 to 12 years of age and family members were treated to a host of entrainment and community enrichment. Highlights included Ms. B The Doodle Queen’s fun and interactive visual arts workshop “Doodles to DaBeat,” Malika Lee Whitney’s Pickney Productions & The Double Dutch Dreamz; and the CULTURE CRASHERS. The latter featured all three members wowing the crowd with Georgie Exinord and Aliou Abdussami delivering powerful poems and virtuoso Solomon Hicks singing and playing the guitar. It was the perfect ending of a long weekend for the CULTURE CRASHERS after also performing at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) “KIDFlix Film Fest of Bed-Stuy.”

Finally, the Apollo Theater recently announced the first show of the 2012-13 season, “Ask Your Mama,” set for March 23, 2012. As stated on their website, this multi-media work brings to life Langston Hughes‘ epic poem “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” with music spanning from Africa to the Americas, the South to the North, opera to jazz, gospel to be-bop. The show is a collaboration between GRAMMY Award-winning soprano Jessye Norman and EMMY® Award-winning composer Laura Karpman featuring jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon along with Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots. Norman exclusively shared with us her enthusiasm for the project.

“’Ask Your Mama’ is a quintessential 21st century celebration of a true American art form: jazz,” she says. “The words of Langston Hughes, so full of devotion to the music makers whose work he cherished, are given wings to fly through the stunning musical gifts of Laura Karpman. We are all simply thrilled to be a part of this marvelous presentation.”


The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.